What Nationality are These Muffins?? (BBB November 2017)

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Bread Baking Babes November 2017 summary: ingredients for English Muffins; refusing to use commercial yeast when there’s wild yeast in the fridge; scheduling problems; late again; rescuing English muffins that are overcooked (really dark…) on the outside and undercooked in the center; meat thermometer is my friend; making my sister happy; a Bread Baking Babes project;

plan ahead
English Muffins Bread Baking Babes (BBB) November 2017: English Muffins

Late again! But we ATE some English muffins on 16 November…. Does that count?

And they’re not burned! They’re bien cuit.

How English are English muffins, anyway??

I haven’t often had English muffins – I confess they’ve never really been my favourite thing. But. I’ve only tasted commercially baked English muffins.

Well, actually, it turns out that I’ve tasted home-made English muffins once before. As I was writing this up, I noticed that I made them in 2006. But I blocked them out of my mind….

English muffins?? Way back at the beginning of August, I promised myself that as soon as the weather got cooler, I would try Emma’s (Laughing Gastronome) recipe for English Muffins. And here they are. Well, they LOOK like English muffins, anyway. But there the resemblance ends. I don’t know what I did wrong.
 
-me, blog from OUR kitchen | first try at English Muffins, 3 October 2006

As far as I can tell from English friends looking down their noses at English muffins, they’re NOT English at all. Oh my no. And (in answer to my innocent question posed to my English friends, “aren’t they similar to crumpets?”) they’re NOTHING like crumpets…. :stomp: :stomp:

This round, rather flat (3 to 4 inches in diameter by 1 inch high) “muffin” is made from a soft yeast dough that, after being formed into rounds (by hand or with Crumpet Rings), is baked on a griddle. It can be made at home but is readily available commerically in an assortment of flavors including sourdough, whole wheat, raisin, cinnamon and cornmeal. English muffins are halved before toasting. In order to produce a surface with the proper peaks and craters […], English muffins must be fork-split and gently pulled apart. Using a kindfe to cut them in half will not produce the desired result.
 
– Sharon Tyler Herbst & Ron Herbst, The New Food Lover’s Companion: English Muffin, p.242
English muffins did not originate in England. In fact, the British weren’t even aware of their existence until Thomas’s English muffins were imported from America in the 1990s. Another shocker: English muffins are marketed as American muffins in British and Irish supermarkets. And that charming phrase, “nooks and crannies”? It rose to popularity in Thomas’s advertising campaign in the late 1970s and early 1980s. […] Samuel Bath Thomas invented the English muffin. A British ex-pat, he emigrated to New York City in 1874. By 1880, he had his own bakery […] where he invented what he called a “toaster crumpet.” It became quite popular on the turn-of-the-century hotel and restaurant scene, as it was seen as a sophisticated alternative to toast. The term “English muffin” was coined in 1894 and was soon widely adopted.
 
– Anna Goldfarb, @Kitchn: The English Muffin Is Not English at All
The English muffin, first called a “toaster crumpet” was invented in 1894 by a British immigrant to New York, Samuel Bath Thomas. Immediately embraced as a more elegant alternative to toast, it was served at fine hotels and ultimately became a mainstay of American breakfast cuisine. […] The English muffin is not a muffin, but a variation of the crumpet, a raised muffin cooked on a griddle in a ring mold until is brown on the bottom and riddled with small holes on the top. That description is not too dissimilar from a topside manifestation of “nooks and crannies” that Thomas’s, the original English muffin, has been proclaiming for some 30 years. […] You may see crumpets […] and think that they’re English muffins, but the giveaway is that they’re unsplit. […] In fact, the English muffin started life as a split crumpet known as the “toaster crumpet.” […] Who Invented The English Muffin? Samuel Bath Thomas! The Brits did not invent the English muffin—in fact, they had never heard of it until the 1990s
 
– Karen Hochman, The Nibble: English Muffin History
The English muffin dates to the tenth century in Wales, though it is just referred to as muffin in the United Kingdom. They were originally a sour dough flat bread. The name ‘English muffin’ has been cited in print since at least in 1795, although these might have been misnamed as crumpets.[…] For serving, muffins are toasted back and front and then split with fingers by easing them apart as the joint all the way around. Some butter [is] place[d] inside and the two halves put back together and kept warm. This method appears as early as 1747 and was recommended by Hannah Glasse, who said that the inside should be like honeycomb. Samuel Bath Thomas (1855-1919) came to New York City from Plymouth, England and opened a Manhattan bakery in 1880 […] English muffins were sold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and this created some interest in the product. To capitalize on this interest, Thomas formed the S.B Thomas Company which began manufacturing English muffins. The best-selling Thomas’s English muffins are claimed to have originated from a family recipe. English muffins have been included in Eggs Benedict recipes since at least 1902.
 
– Anonymous, Food History: History of English muffin
[A]n English baker, a certain Samuel B. Thomas, started making these flat chewy things in America over 100 years ago, from his mother’s tea cake recipe. The English deny that they ever heard or saw anything like it until they were imported from America. […]
‘English Muffins’ are about 3 inches round and 1 inch high, yeast raised (basically a bread dough) and baked on a griddle. To get the proper texture when split in two they should not be cut with a knife, but should be split with a fork. The resulting rough texture gives them a certain crunchiness when toasted (and helps them hold gobs of butter and preserves). They are an essential ingredient in Eggs Benedict .
 
– James T. Ehler, FoodReference.com: English Muffins

Here’s how things went when I was making English muffins this time round:

BBB English Muffins diary:

3 October 2017, 07:48 T will be thrilled with this choice. He has often asked for them but I’ve never had the nerve to try making them. How clever of Pat to give me this push. (edit 16 November 2017: ha. I HAVE tried making them before! See above….)

4 October 2017, 13:23 When Pat told us about her choice, she innocently asked, “Anyone planning on turning them in to Eggs Benedict of one of the variations? If you do, I would recommend using a bit less honey.”

Ha! She knows me to well!! Eggs Benedict (actually, it was Eggs Florentine) was one of the first things I thought of! How handy to be given permission to reduce the honey. (Heh, heh… what else will I do to this recipe?)

I know! I’ll use my wild starter. I bet you anything that (even though Fleischmann’s yeast was already being used in bakeries by the time that Thomas had set his up in New York) the original New York English muffins were made with wild starter.

It was Louis Pasteur In 1859 who first discovered how yeast works:
    • Yeast feeds on the starches in flour, producing carbon dioxide
    • The carbon dioxide expands the gluten proteins in the flour
    • The gluten proteins cause the dough (of which flour is a main ingredient) to expand and rise
Nine years after Pasteur’s discovery, Fleischmann’s® Yeast was founded, and the modern baking era was born.
 
– Fleischmann’s Bread World, The History of Yeast
[C]ommercial yeast really became a thing in the 1860s, when Charles Fleischmann and a business man named James Gaff set up a yeast production company in a distillery in Cincinnatti […] The yeast that they were producing in this plant is what was called Fresh Yeast […] In the ensuing decades [after Fleischmann’s “star attraction” exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876] yeast becomes a really big thing
 
– Catherine Price, The Fridge Light | One Word: Yeasts, CBC Radio
1868 The Fleischmann brothers create America’s first commercially produced yeast, a cake of compressed grain, barley malt, and brewer’s yeast. By the start of the 20th century, bread recipes are calling for commercial yeast instead of natural starters made with wild yeasts.
 
– Marne Stetton, Bread In America, SAVEUR No.147 (May 2012), p50

Yes indeed. I’m using our wild starter! After all, it’s there, taking up room in the fridge.

9 November 2017, 15:39 Our never-throw-any-of-it-away Mason wheat starter is getting out of hand. I sent a blanket message out to my FB friends:

Before I toss some of it, does anyone need some wild wheat starter? …because of weather changes, it became voracious and then got rather large – it is just barely fitting into the large mason jar in the fridge.
 
– me, blanket FB message

12 November 2017, 10:46 Yay! John T said he wants some of the starter. How handy is that? (Nick O’Time! I almost can’t close the jar, it’s so full.)

14 November 2017, 09:09 Shriek! How can it be the 14th already?

Alas, my scheduling may be faulty. I just now built up the starter from the fridge. Which means making the English muffins tomorrow (on a day that we CAN’T have Eggs Benedict because of timing of the rest of the day). Oh dear. What to do. What to do.

What else do people eat English muffins with??

Whatever we choose, I’m planning on making half the recipe.

17:54 When I fed the starter early this morning, I thought that I’d be mixing dough this afternoon and baking tomorrow morning. But the starter is not really doing anything – it’s cold in the house again. I thought it would do its thing in the oven with only the light turned on. It seems I’m wrong. :stomp:

(My sister was complaining last month that my BBB report was too dull and that everything seemed to go too smoothly. Won’t she be pleased this month?)

I think I’m going to have to resort to using {eek!} commercial yeast. And it’s also looking like I might be a couple of days late posting. :stomp: :stomp:

Sigh…. And Pat did warn us about this too:

Something to remember about this [English muffins] recipe is that it takes some time.
 
– Pat, message to BBBabes

15 November 2017, 10:57am I just finished mixing together the dough and am waiting for the bell to ring to tell me it’s time to mix in the salt.

Last night, just before dinner, I stared morosely at the motionless, glistening blob of starter that hadn’t moved one iota since the morning except when the bowl it was in was being moved from oven with only the light turned on to counter to look at it in horror and back into the oven again. After not quite crying in frustration, I decided I would try building it up with LOTS of flour to make Tartine Bread today and make the English muffin dough with active dry yeast at the same time. If the starter was still blobbing sullenly, I’d use active dry yeast to make Tartine bread too. Suddenly, I felt free.

Imagine my surprise this morning when the starter looked bubbly and active AND it floated. Ha. That’s what a sharp talking and fear will do….

There was enough active starter to make both doughs. Here’s hoping that the English muffin dough works. Fingers crossed.

Yikes. It’s NOT easy dividing an egg in half. And it’s really not easy dividing an egg white in half. Never mind. I’ll worry about that tomorrow.

(Happy now, B?)

Oh! I see that Pat has added an instruction for how to make these with wild starter – but she adds some commercial yeast too.

11:43am I squooged the salt and water into the Tartine Bread dough. Then I added the salt and water to the English muffin dough. No squooging was necessary. The English muffin dough is extremely slack. I hope it’s supposed to be….

And in spite of the fact that the BBB recipe is supposed to be “no knead”, I couldn’t stop myself from slopping the dough around a little to try to stiffen and strengthen it at least a little. I don’t think I need to have bothered. It seemed exactly the same consistancy before and after: like cake batter.

(B must be thrilled.)

18:49 It’s a miracle! The dough is rising! I think maybe it might be time to shape them. Although… it probably won’t hurt to let the dough sit in the bowl a little longer. I’ll shape the muffins after dinner.

I started to wonder about cornmeal vs. semolina. And suddenly, I have an urge to use semolina….

Looking on the internet, I see that lots of people use semolina:

These big, thick, homemade English muffins are wonderful toasted and spread with butter and jam […] When the griddle or pan is up to heat, place one well greased 3 3/4″ English muffin ring in the pan, and sprinkle a little semolina inside the ring.
 
– King Arthur Flour, Breakfast Sandwich Muffins
I never understood the allure of the English muffin. I would see commercials and packaging boasting nooks and crannies, but I thought the dry hockey pucks were lacking in flavor and a little bit cardboardy—definitely best used as a vehicle for butter. I was totally anti-English muffin. […] English muffins are dipped in a textured flour or meal, the most common being semolina flour or cornmeal.
 
– Erin McDowell, food52.com: How to Make English Muffins with All the Nooks & Crannies
Semolina will give your muffins the typical crunchy English muffin crust. (Why not cornmeal, instead of semolina? Cornmeal burns easily. Semolina is preferred, but use cornmeal if you must. Or try using Farina, a.k.a. Cream of Wheat)
 
– Erik, Baking in Oregon | Homemade English Muffins

English Muffins I discussed it with T. He didn’t waffle at all and said authoritatively, “These were invented in the USA? Cornmeal. Use cornmeal. Semolina would have been almost impossible to find.”

So. Cornmeal it is. (I still wonder about semolina though.)

16 November 2017, 09:37 They puffed!! They puffed!!

cooking English muffinsEnglish muffinscooking English Muffins
cooking English Muffinscooking English muffinsEnglish Muffins
English Muffins

Let me back track…. I took the tray out of the fridge and we heated up the griddle. We guessed that pancake temperature was correct. After not quite 10 minutes on one side, the bottoms were quite dark (errmmm… a couple actually showing black :lalala: ). We turned the muffins over to cook on the other side for only about 5 minutes before they looked completely done on both sides. But. From looking at the edges, they didn’t seem done inside. So I looked at Rose Levy Beranbaum’s instructions to see if she gave any hints. Of course she does!

Preheat the griddle or frying pan. […] Heat over low heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. […] Brush the griddle or pan lightly with the melted butter […] and cook [the English Muffins] for 10 minutes or until browned underneath. Turn and continue cooking until the bottom is browned (an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should read about 190°F
 
-Rose Levy Beranbaum, Quick Breads, Little Quick Breads, Little Yeast Breads, and Batter Breads, The Bread Bible, p170

We stuck a thermometer into one of the supposedly done muffins. It read only 170F. Aha! We knew it.

English Muffins So, instead of risking blackening the outsides of muffins even more, we put them into the toaster oven set at 300F for about 10 minutes until the thermometer read 190F. Yay.

The muffins are cooling. We’ll try them later this afternoon because we’re headed out the door now.

(You must be out of your mind with joy, B.)

Once they were completely cooled, using a cake comb instead of a fork (way easier!), we split all the muffins in half before putting them into the freezer. All but one. We HAD to taste it! We were a little nervous of putting the halves into our popup toaster so used the toaster oven set on “broil”.

English Muffin
English Muffin

We buttered them and added a bit of T’s marmalade.

Wow. Delicious. Way more delicious than I expected.

T immediately said, “Will you make these for me again?”

Blow me over. I had no idea that both of us would like these so much. They’re WAY better than any of the commercial English muffins either of us have eaten.

That’s right; if it weren’t for the BBBabes, I don’t think I would have bothered trying to make English muffins. Thank you for the push, Pat!

Here is the BBB November 2017 English Muffin recipe we were given. And here is my revised ingredient list:

BBB English Muffins

makes six muffins

starter:

  • spoonful bubbling wheat starter from fridge
  • 30gm whole wheat flour
  • 30gm room temperature water

dough:

  • 53gm above starter
  • flour (the BBB recipe calls for Bread flour and whole wheat flour)
        » 140gm unbleached all-purpose
        » 3gm high-gluten flour
        » 43gm whole wheat flour
  • 143gm cold milk
  • 12gm honey (the BBB recipe calls for quite a lot more honey)
  • 1/2 large egg white
  • 13gm water
  • 4.5gm Kosher salt (2% Baker’s percentage)

for shaping and cooking:

  • good shot (at least 72gm) cornmeal
  • unsalted butter
  1. starter: Late in the evening before you will be mixing the actual English muffin dough: Stir the starter ingredients together in a smallish bowl. Leavee 53 grams in the bowl (put the rest back into the jar in the fridge), cover the bowl with a plate and leave overnight in the oven with only the light turned on.
  2. Early in the morning of the day you will be making the dough: Take a small spoonful of the starter and see if it floats in a bowl of lukewarm water. If it is bubbly but the little amount sinks like a stone, stir in 10g whole wheat flour and 10g room temperature water. Cover with a plate and put the bowl back into the oven with only the light turned on. About 30 minutes later, check to see if the mixture floats. It probably will. Proceed with making the actual dough. (Put any extra starter into the jar in the fridge.)
  3. dough: In a large bowl, mix starter, flours, milk, honey and egg white until smooth. Cover with a plate and leave for half an hour.
  4. After the mixture has rested, using a wooden spoon, stir in water and salt. Don’t be alarmed that it’s more like batter than dough. Cover with a plate and set aside in the oven with only the light turned on until it balloons up and has more than doubled.

Please see the actual BBB November 2017 English Muffins recipe for the rest of the instructions.

Notes:

1.) griddle temperature The BBB recipe says to “Preheat an electric griddle to 325°F or warm a 12-inch cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. When sizzling-hot, add half the butter and melt; griddle muffins until their bottoms are golden brown, about 8 minutes.” I confess that I was too lazy to race upstairs to reread these instructions and followed Rose Levy Beranbaum’s English Muffins instructions in The Bread Bible, “Heat over low heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact”. We guessed that this meant to put the griddle at the same heat as for making pancakes. In retrospect, this is too high. Next time, we will lower the temperature to “low” rather than “medium low”. And we will definitely use a thermometer, not stopping the cooking until it reads about 190F when inserted in the center of a muffin.

2.) leaveners The BBB recipe calls for using commercial yeast, even in the sourdough version. Digging my heels in, I refused to add any commercial yeast. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried.

 

English muffins

T is rattling around in the kitchen now, making cheese sauce so that we can have Mock Bennies.

We would have had Eggs Benedict, but we don’t have any lemons in the house right now. We COULD go and get lemons but the idea of Mock Bennies is too appealing. Remind me to report….

Thank you again for making me see the light about English muffins, Pat!

Bread Baking Babes Bread Baking Babes November 2017

Pat (aka Elle) is our host for November 2017’s Bread Baking Babes‘ project. She wrote:

I’ve made [English muffins] before, once, but was disappointed with the interior texture. I like them to have the ‘nooks and crannies’ I grew up with. Most recipes seem to have an interior with a tight crumb. This time I think that we have a winner. Stella Parks is one of a number of contributors to Serious Eats blog and she explains the reasons why she used certain ingredients. She claims that there are lots of nooks to gather melted butter and it turns out to be true.

We know you’ll want to make English Muffins too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the muffins in the next couple of weeks and post about it (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 November 2017. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to email the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.

Please note that it’s not enough to post about your bread in the Facebook group. Because of the ephemeral nature of Facebook’s posts, your FB post may be lost in the shuffle. Please make sure to directly contact the kitchen of the month if you want to be included in the BBBuddy roundup.

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ November 2017 bread.

Mock Benny

edit 18 November 2017:
We did make Mock Bennies! They were delicious. And we’re certain that one of the reasons they were delicious is because their base was made from toasted BBB English Muffins. Thank you again, Pat!

 

 

 

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  • Kelly

    Oh yes, do report on the mock bennies! And yup, nothing like crumpets. And ROFL on the bien cuit! :D :D :D Brilliant to use the toaster over to just broil the tops, your toasted muffins look wonderful!

  • katiezel

    Love English muffins – toasted with lots of butter and peanut butter…. or butter and (you guessed it) goat cheese and maybe a bit of leftover smoked salmon.
    I miss English muffins….. Sigh…. I didn’t realize they are (relatively) easy to make. Hmmm….

  • MyKitchenInHalfCups

    You are incredible with all that history. I really enjoyed all of those stories. It is a marvel how we get into thinking we’re not going to like something and then find something like English muffins are really good!
    Your dark muffins look really good to me. If they didn’t taste burnt, then they weren’t and that means they are good. My second batch I preheated the griddle to 360°, turned it to 320° a minute later and cooked them a total of 9 minutes on a side! All then were over 200° on the thermometer!

  • Ha! It has been years and years since I had a crumpet and strangely, my recollection says these English muffins really aren’t that far off. But who knows? Maybe the crumpets that I had were inferior crumpets (they were on a British touring boat in the north of England – sometime way way way back in the last century when things still cost shillings and pounds and guineas).

    The mock bennies were even better than I thought they were going to be, Kelly (and I expected them to be stellar).

  • Yes, you neeeeed to make these, Katie. The brilliant thing is that they freeze so well so you don’t have to eat all of them at once. Unless you want to…. (But don’t forget to split them in half before you freeze them!)

    Eat them with peanut butter?! Oh my no. But I like the idea of goat cheese and smoked salmon. NOW you’re talking.

  • Ha. I wish I could take credit for finding the history, Tanna. It was a relatively easy search on the internet….

    I do take credit for thinking of looking in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s cookbook though, to learn about using a thermometer. How excellent that you can monitor the temperature of your griddle. We are going to have to continue to rely on trial and error and the cold-water-thrown-onto-the-hot-griddle to find out if ours is right.

  • Barbara M

    Ha! This one was definitely a thrilling tale. (I hope I didn’t use such a harsh word as “dull” last time, though.)

    edit: I don’t think you came right out and said “dull”, Barbara, but it was definitely implied. :lalala: I’m glad I managed to redeem myself. – Elizabeth

  • Bread Experience

    Your muffins rose beautifully. I’ve never been particularly found of English muffins myself, but I do like these.

    I need one of those cake combs. Thanks for the tip about using semolina instead of cornmeal. I can testify that cornmeal does burn. Ha ha!

  • We couldn’t believe how much they rose. It was thrilling to watch.

    It turns out that the “cake comb” we have isn’t a cake comb after all, Cathy! When doing an internet search, I learned It’s a fork to hold vegetables in place for slicing…. But it worked perfectly for separating English Muffins.

    Amazon sells them:
    amazon[dot]com/LifeJoy-Vegetable-Stainless-Slicing-Remover/dp/B01DNKH18M
    They also sell cake combs – but that would be for giant sized English muffins:
    amazon[dot]com/Angel-Food-Cake-Cutter-732/dp/B00MHSTCQ6